Tuesday, May 25, 2010

if emeril lagasse were korean, this is how he would make sangria.

definitely one of my favorite things about living in oakland was our frequent trips to "the beach." i know that i now live in hawai'i where there are *real* beaches, and i do appreciate those too, but there is a special place in my heart for that grassy spot on lake merritt where we would pop a bottle of bubbles on a sunny afternoon and watch the people in the town pass by.

on one such beautiful recent sunday afternoon we were joined by our good friend sierra, and decided to stray from our usual champagne fare to make our own sangria. i'm a big fan of sangria, and not a big fan of spending a lot of money (boy am i sad to be living in the land of ridiculously expensive produce). so i took this recipe from emeril lagasse's "essence of emeril" food network and adapted it to fit whatever was available cheaply at the korean market up the street. here's the original recipe:


    * 1 (750-ml) bottle red wine
    * 1/4 cup brandy
    * 1/4 cup orange flavored liqueur (recommended: triple sec or Grand Marnier)
    * 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
    * 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
    * 1/4 cup sugar
    * 1/2 orange, thinly sliced
    * 1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
    * 1 unwaxed apple, cored, and cut into thin wedges
    * 1 (750-ml) bottle sparkling water, chilled

Combine everything but the sparkling water in a large plastic container or glass pitchers. Cover and chill completely, 1 to 2 hours. When ready to serve, add the sparkling water.
i found our favorite cheap wine, crane lake, which tastes pretty terrible on its own, but mixed with all this other delicious stuff it's perfect. and it only costs $3/bottle. so we doubled the recipe. we were blessed with a continuing overflow of VSOP from our winter brandy drink days (thanks, megan) - including spiced cider and eggnog, and courtesy of sierra's grandma's liquor cabinet we also had triple sec. i picked up limes, lemons, and a ton of mandarins from the koreans, plus some fantastic meyer lemons we had from marty's uncle bobby's place (i sure miss those). rather than apple i went for the nectarines that were on sale at the korean market, which ended up being mostly overripe, but some of it was salvageable and along with the mandarins gave a nice sweetness to the sangria.

that's pretty much all i have to say about that - it was the best sunday afternoon ever. thumbs up for sangria. thanks to sierra and marty for sharing it with me. definitely fond memories for the town.

Friday, May 21, 2010

irish car bomb cupcakes

this week's mission was to make some kind of incredible thank-you gift to show my appreciation to our friends brutus and kyle, who let marty and i stay at their apartment all week preceding my cousin's wedding. cupcakes have been on my mind lately, and thanks to rachel's suggestion i headed over to smitten kitchen for this incredible recipe.

if you're unfamiliar with the drink sensation that is the "irish car bomb" it goes something like this: you take a shot glass and fill it half full of bailey's irish cream; float jameson irish whiskey on top to fill the shot glass, which you then drop (glass and all) into 3/4 pint of guinness and chug. i don't say "chug" lightly here. this is what they call a "volatile drink" - meaning it not only froths and foams when you drop the shot into the beer, but it will also start to curdle almost immediately if you let it, so you really don't want to waste time.

perhaps it's in bad taste to name a drink after an act of violence, and perhaps i'm perpetuating that by claiming the name for these cupcakes, but i admire a nation that refers to its period of ethno-political conflict as "The Troubles," and chocolate whiskey and beer cupcakes just doesn't have the same ring to it.

i've said it before, but smitten kitchen is brilliant. who would think to turn that into cupcake form? feel free to submit a comment here with suggestions of what else you'd like to see turned into cupcake form. i'll see what i can make happen.

i should also mention that these may top the list of most expensive homemade cupcakes ever.

could these few ingredients actually cost over $45? in hawai'i they sure can.
don't let this dissuade you from trying - i'm sure if you live someplace where food is reasonably priced you won't have the sticker shock. it's just that here in the most oil-dependent state in the nation we import 90% of our food from overseas, and that's a problem.

i drew the line at the $4 whole paycheck foods wanted to charge me for paper cupcake liners, and i'm going to go ahead and encourage a cultural shift here - do we really need to have our cupcakes half-wrapped in paper? my cupcake tin is nonstick, so it's not an issue on my end, and i am hopeful that the recipients of my baked goods will embrace the going green aspect of their gift.

i should also say these are not cupcakes for the fainthearted - neither for the baking nor the eating. it took me a solid 3 hours of baking/assembly, and well - you can see the ingredients.

so here's the recipe - from smitten kitchen: (with my comments in italics)
Chocolate Whiskey and Beer Cupcakes
Makes 20 to 24 cupcakes

For the Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes

1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

Ganache Filling (Updated to double it, based on many commenters suggestions — thanks!)
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 to 2 teaspoons Irish whiskey (I recommend Jameson, though I had to substitute Jack Daniels because that's all I could find in the tiny airplane-sized bottle, and since i'm living in the house of jehovah right now with grandma ho i don't have the usual bottle of jameson in the cupboard)

Baileys Frosting
3 to 4 cups confections sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 to 4 tablespoons Baileys (or milk, or heavy cream, or a combination thereof)

Special equipment: 1-inch round cookie cutter or an apple corer and a piping bag (though a plastic bag with the corner snipped off will also work - unless you let your ganache chill too long and then you bust multiple holes in the ziplock bag that result in many spouts for frosting, ahem)

Make the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners (or not - save the earth!). Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. notice that says one cup of guinness - that means you'll have to drink the rest of the beer while baking, bonus! Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, rotating them once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly, about 17 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a rack completely. my cupcakes took 16-17 mins and were very fluffy/springy. i couldn't tell if they really tasted like guinness, or if i just had that taste in my mouth from finishing off the beer.

Make the filling: Chop the chocolate and transfer it to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then stir until smooth. (If this has not sufficiently melted the chocolate, you can return it to a double-boiler to gently melt what remains. 20 seconds in the microwave, watching carefully, will also work.) Add the butter and whiskey (if you’re using it) and stir until combined. i used the microwave method - since i have use of a microwave at grandma's house and the chocolate melting process can be a little nerve-wracking when you're worried about ruining that hella expensive chocolate you just bought - it took maybe 2 rounds of 30 seconds each with a lot of stirring in between rounds to get there - don't overdo it. i have to say here, the chocolate ganache went from "mmm, that's tasty" with the ghiradelli and cream to "i may just have to pipe that directly into my mouth and forgo the whole cupcake thing" when i added the whiskey. turns out whiskey and chocolate is a knockout combination. i would even go ahead and add another couple teaspoons of whiskey next time to bump up the flavor. i was worried about it preventing the ganache from setting, but it set just fine.

Fill the cupcakes: Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped (the fridge will speed this along but you must stir it every 10 minutes). Meanwhile, using your 1-inch round cookie cutter or an apple corer, cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes. You want to go most of the way down the cupcake but not cut through the bottom — aim for 2/3 of the way. A slim spoon or grapefruit knife will help you get the center out. Those are your “tasters”. Put the ganache into a piping bag with a wide tip and fill the holes in each cupcake to the top.
she says "tasters" here like there are going to be cute little plugs of cake to pop in your mouth, but what i ended up with was a big pile of crumbs. not that that stopped me from shoving a handful in my mouth.

i'm including a picture of what an apple corer looks like here - because i had to ask somebody myself. it worked great, and i probably didn't even need the grapefruit knife, though i was super excited to have an excuse to use what is probably my favorite utensil of all time - grandma ho has this special grapefruit knife that has one end with two blades so that you can cut up both sides of the grapefruit section at the same time - i love this knife and i think about it every time i eat grapefruit. that's not the end i used for the cupcakes, i'm just excited about it.
Make the frosting: Whip the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, for several minutes. You want to get it very light and fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time. if i could have located my sifter after the move i would have used it here to sift in the powdered sugar so i wouldn't have to content with the lumps.

[This is a fantastic trick I picked up while working on the cupcakes article for Martha Stewart Living; the test kitchen chefs had found that when they added the sugar slowly, quick buttercream frostings got less grainy, and tended to require less sugar to thicken them up.]

When the frosting looks thick enough to spread, drizzle in the Baileys (or milk) and whip it until combined. If this has made the frosting too thin (it shouldn’t, but just in case) beat in another spoonful or two of powdered sugar.
Ice and decorate the cupcakes.

i was being stingy with the ganache at first, but i ended up with extra at the end - so don't be shy to fill them full. i also chilled the ganache a little too long in the fridge - and didn't let it come back to room temp before putting it into my makeshift pastry bag, so i busted some extra holes in the sides which ended up decorating the area around my cupcakes and hands as well.

i experimented with a few different designs. here's what the combination of whiskey ganache and baileys frosting looks like:

Do ahead: You can bake the cupcakes a week or two in advance and store them, well wrapped, in the freezer. You can also fill them before you freeze them. They also keep filled — or filled and frosted — in the fridge for a day. (Longer, they will start to get stale.)

i'll let you know how they are received.